The Cinemagicians: Kentridge and Melies

I caught up with the shows at the MOMA last weekend, including the William Kentridge exhibit. A show that grapples with heavy subjects like apartheid and colonialism, Kentridge’s animated charcoal drawings get smudged, erased, and redrawn to tell stories about characters that are often heavy, egotistical and morally adrift. Kentridge said, “I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain endings. An art in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.” My favorite part of the exhibit however was where the weighty politics of the stories disappeared and Kentridge does seem to let loose with a cinematic fun that is both surprising and welcome…

In JOURNEY TO THE MOON, Kentridge plays himself as the artist conjuring up illusions on the screen in an homage to the early special effects cinematic guru Georges Melies and his 1902 movie A TRIP TO THE MOON.  It’s as if Kentridge suddenly takes flight away from the heaviness of his subject matter for a few minutes of cinematic grace. And who’s to say traveling to the moon in an espresso pot isn’t political?

Over a hundred years later Georges Melies continues to inspire.  Just turn on and off the camera and you can make something disappear. Run the camera in reverse and objects can fly across the room. Print from the negative image and crawling ants can become stars in the sky. In the day of movies like AVATAR, I wonder why these simple illusions still captivate. Is it because we still like some of our magic home made?

Watch the original TRIP TO THE MOON here: